Topeka Kansas for History Buffs

Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

Experience the past today in Topeka

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The state capital of Kansas since the 1860s, Topeka is located near US 75 and US 24 and it’s close to I-70 and I-335. The city also played a major role in the Underground Railroad. During the 1950s, all eyes turned to the city again, as it became a focal point for the issue of school segregation. Tiffany also shared his artistry with this Midwest town. And several local restaurants have offered food and hospitality with residents and visitors for decades.

Day 1 in Topeka

Get a hearty breakfast at Hanover Pancake House. For 50 years, this restaurant has been the perfect place to enjoy light buttermilk pancakes or fluffy biscuits smothered in sausage gravy. It’s a terrific way to fuel up before a busy day of sightseeing.

Your first stop is the Kansas State Capitol, a gorgeous building that took nearly 40 years to build. A recent renovation restored woodwork, gilt banisters and historical murals to their original grandeur. The magnificent center dome is decorated with more stunning murals, carved archways and stained glass.

Cross the street to First Presbyterian Church, where there is a magnificent collection of Tiffany stained glass windows. Crafted by Tiffany himself, when he was in his 60s, these gorgeous glass art pieces line the walls of sanctuary. To see the windows, stop in the church office first.

Before you leave the neighborhood, stop in for a free public tour at Topeka High School (appointment required). Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, its impressive architecture looks like it came straight from Harry Potter.

At lunchtime, head for the Little Russia district, located in north Topeka. Then check out Porubsky’s Deli. Opened in 1947, they’re renowned for spicy chili (from October through April), relish-laced ham salad and ultra-hot house-made pickles. National restaurant critic, Michael Stern, has given them his seal of approval too.

Prepare to spend several hours at Brown v. Board of Education. The one-time school building commemorates five lawsuits and a 1954 Supreme Court ruling that determined ‘separate but equal educational facilities were inherently discriminatory.’ One exhibit allows visitors to stand between enormous screens playing life-sized news footage from related demonstrations.

Head downtown again, for dinner at the RowHouse Restaurant. You’ll enjoy a multi-course, fixed-price dinner served inside a cozy 1876 row house. The menu changes with availability of fresh ingredients and this is a great place to linger.

Experience Topeka’s 1920s-era grandeur, at the Tudor-style mansion for The Woodward Inns on Filmore. On the main floor, the two-story library is full of stained glass windows and vintage furnishings, while the dining room is a dark and cozy environment. Owner, Elizabeth Taylor, also owns adjacent lodging properties.

Day 2 in Topeka

After a hearty breakfast, head towards the Kansas Museum of History, located on the western outskirts of town. This museum features pictographs of American Indian tribes that inhabited the state and a full-size antique locomotive plus passenger cars. In addition, there’s education about the state’s natural resources and wildlife, period clothing and more. Also in western Topeka, Old Prairie Town at Ward-Meade Historic Site includes a vintage pharmacy and an 1854 cabin. There’s a 1910 railroad depot here and a wooden windmill too. The compact site provides a glimpse of 1800s Topeka.

Head back to the heart of town for lunch at Bobo’s Drive-In. Featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives,” this 1948 restaurant is known for steak burgers, flaky handmade apple pies and 24-ounce shakes. You’ll feel like you have stepped back in time while sitting in a pink vinyl booths or at the horseshoe-shaped counter.

End your Topeka trip at the Combat Air Museum, south of town. Showcasing close to 40 planes, from vintage to present-day this volunteer-run has been open for nearly four decades. There are items from the USS Topeka and a bullet-riddled restored Navy plane as well as aircraft engines and other artifacts.

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